BISMARCK, North Dakota — Two more mule deer have tested positive for chronic wasting disease in North Dakota, bringing the total since 2009 to seven, although officials are confident it isn't spreading in the state.
The latest positive tests were in deer killed during last fall's gun season in the 3F2 hunting unit in southwestern North Dakota, the state Game and Fish Department announced Monday. Testing was done at Michigan State University and results were verified at a federal laboratory in Ames, Iowa.
All of the deer that have tested positive for the disease in recent years have been in the 3F2 unit, which borders South Dakota.
"This isn't surprising, and the number of positives coming out of the area remains low," Game and Fish Wildlife Veterinarian Dan Grove said.
CWD is a fatal disease that affects the nervous system of members of the deer family. Scientists have found no evidence that it can be transmitted naturally to people or livestock, though the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people not eat meat from infected animals.
Until 2009, North Dakota was CWD-free, although the disease was present in deer and elk in other states and Canada.
"We don't know exactly why it showed up where it did," Game and Fish Wildlife Chief Jeb Williams said.
The agency is fairly certain that it is not present elsewhere in North Dakota. Game and Fish began monitoring for CWD in 2002, and since then more than 25,000 deer, elk and moose killed by hunters throughout the state have tested negative.
"If it would be going on in other parts of the state, we would know it," Williams said.
One possible reason it has not spread is that Game and Fish has put hunting restrictions in place in the 3F2 unit, and hunters have complied because they know it is in the best long-term interest of their sport, Williams said.
Game and Fish restricts the transporting of deer from the unit and has introduced a baiting ban, which Grove said helps limit nose-to-nose contact by deer that can spread CWD.
Other questions remain unanswered, such as why no white-tailed deer in the area have tested positive.
"Chronic wasting disease obviously has been an issue that has been on the landscape in other states for a number of years, (but) it's a disease that's not totally understood yet," Williams said.
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